Nikki Simpson: My Week at The Drum

18 July 2014 by @ 12:00

PPA Scotland spent a week at The Drum to discover how they've taken the digital publishing world by storm

The Drum Blog

The Drum

I work full time at PPA Scotland, supporting Scottish magazine publishers through events, training, promotion, lobbying and research. We were starting to feel that with publishing changing so rapidly, my knowledge could be better when it came to digital. So I asked Nick Creed, Co-Founder of The Drum, if I could spend a week at their Glasgow office, absorbing as much as I could from a team who have just won the B2B digital publisher and editorial team of the year at the AOP’s Digital Publishing Awards, and last year won not only PPA Scotland’s Scottish Magazine of the Year, but also B2B Publisher of the Year at the national PPA Awards. Here’s how the week went:


First impression is that this is a busy company. The week before I arrive, they’ve completed The Drum Live, bringing together 400 marketing CEOs and MDs to create an issue of the magazine in one day. That in itself is pretty impressive, but the digital applications of this afterwards are equally so. They’ve teamed up with Blippar to make interactive content for every page of The Drum Live section – using videos of every main room session, vox-pops of attendees and time-lapse films of illustration. Then to add further digital content, they have Bitcoin ads for subscriptions, as well as promoting their own Adverati awards and using Vine uploads from the day.

And that’s just the magazine. They run 20 different awards ceremonies, their most active project being to bring together every awards site and tie them in with their recently launched Profile Hub. They also run the Recommended Agency Register (RAR), helping clients source the right marketing services agencies; the (now increased to) 50 under 30 awards, to encourage women to get into the digital industry; regular supplements with the magazine; and The Drum Network, running events and training to support marketers. I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed!

Today’s tips:
• Change your mind frequently (with great ideas each time) and you’ll create a flexible environment where people think on their feet
• If you’re not using Hootsuite already it’s a great platform for social media analytics together with rather than bitly or tiny.url
• Holding meetings standing up is a great way to think more productively. Really – try it
• Even those at the top of their game with digital still have Skype connection problems
• Content is now consumed 24/7, embrace it


Another day of absorption, spent talking to developers and project managers. Turns out I was right, there were things I’d missed, mostly in the form of new initiatives in the planning stages. One example of which is the ‘Creative Showcase’ – unrelated to The Drum Network or the RAR, this is another project to display visual work the team is particularly impressed by, showing their mutual passion for creative content.

Learnt a lot more about the RAR today and the system that supports it, they’re hoping to move to an open source platform to bring the CMS in line with the other Carnyx services. They’re also thinking of creating a ‘Brief Submission’ function for clients to connect with agencies – I’m afraid the conversation turned to procurement systems at this point so a couple of the points below are past cool on the geekometer.

Today’s tips:
• Bayesian probability and Bayesian averages are very different and, incidentally, aren’t used by the RAR – they use a static anchor point instead. Yeah I know – Google it
• Anonymous dialogue sections can work better if you’re going for transparency, allowing clients to comment freely
• Encourage your team to get out and about, no matter in what role, and they’ll promote your company and its products for you


Spent the day helping out on the DADI Awards site – just doing basic data entry but it was interesting nonetheless. PPA Scotland holds the Scottish Magazine Awards each year, so it was good to see how their system runs, integrating the different awards sites with a points system directly relating back to each agency’s profile – or that’s the plan for the near future.

There’s an ongoing feel of striving to improve all their systems, with investment in various platforms (including Salesforce) and development/IT support.

Today’s tips:
• If you want to increase brand loyalty, treat your website as a news publication for your industry with regularly published features
• Treat video the same as a feature or opinion piece – it’s all content
• Naming files and photos correctly not only helps you find them, it’s also great for SEO
• Create a shortened url with your own company name to increase trust in your content


Some of The Drum’s revenue comes through the research it carries out and publishes each year, first as a synopsis in the form of a supplement to the magazine and second as a paid-for document detailing the full data and in-depth analysis. Agencies contribute their financial details to the survey, which is combined with RAR data (scored by clients) and peer reviews. This creates a Top 100 list, with places for the Top 10 coveted as not only a marketing tool but also a driver for continued innovation, not to mention a morale boost.

All research is carried out in a targeted, personal manner, with supplied data checked meticulously. The RAR also teamed up with the Chartered Institute of Marketing this year, to research the top marketers in the north of England, creating increased kudos for the CIM’s Northern Marketer of the Year and putting The Drum at the heart of the action.

Today’s tips:
• You can embed Survey Monkey into your website for public voting – just don’t expect it to look pretty
• If you want to reach CEOs sometimes it’s easier to get their attention through direct messages on Twitter or sending Inmail on LinkedIn
• Public votes may be perceived as popularity contests, but influential people are able to mobilise others to vote – there’s merit in that itself
• Trends come in waves on whether to specialise in one thing, or whether to offer an all-encompassing service. ‘Digital’ for example, now includes this:

The Drum Live


My last day focuses on sales, The Drum’s newsletter and their soon to be amalgamated Drum Awards site. Much to my envy, their twice-daily newsletter is incredibly easy to populate, using discipline, sector and location tags from already generated content on the website and for the magazine. All that’s required is a simple tick box to say which articles will be pulled over, together with automatically curated content from their Profile Hub.

With 20 different awards ceremonies and an events team of seven in Glasgow, there are plenty of ideas for content and improvements on the new awards site. PPA Scotland began accepting online entries for the Scottish Magazine Awards last year, so I took a lot of ideas from the planning meeting.

Today’s tips:
• Make the most of available ad space on your website with homepage takeovers, but javascript can be difficult to maintain control over, so be careful how its used 
• If you’re launching a new product or supplement, create a launch party inviting your key advertisers’ targets
• Use awards sites as a way to engage with your audience beyond the entering and booking process – showcase work, give speech tips, suggest ideas for the shortlist’s PR
• Think about the UX not only for entrants but also for judges
• Monitor spikes in web traffic and bookings and compare against newsletter output, social media and publication delivery dates
• Set-up automatic reminders for abandoned baskets


There was a whole lot more over the week that’s either top secret, far too detailed, or too specific to The Drum to be relevant here, but it’s safe to say that I learnt a lot from a company that’s working incredibly hard to produce fantastic content and to engage with its customers. A massive thank you to the whole Carnyx team for being so welcoming – and for inspiring me to spend more time with the PPA Scotland membership.

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